Back when I was still teaching, I used to ask my students to write a “hair story.” And every, every year, every single kid in class had a hair story. That never ceased to amaze me. It seemed that we all had hair stories to tell.
I have always been a bit obsessed with my hair. Overly critical, hating my curls, hating the colour, hating the whoop-de-do that manifested itself every morning in the front. The advent of straightening irons and multiple products that I could use to curb my curls helped a lot. But I was nevertheless often unhappy with my hair. And despite the talents of several wonderful hairdressers over the years (Melvin, Chinta, Mona, Mustapha, and now Carmen), I was always seeking change. Seeking the perfect colour and cut.
I’ve come close in recent years. I always like my cut. And Carmen’s skill with colour is amazing. But, oddly enough, in my mid-sixties when I have finally moved from dyed blonde, highlighted, low-lighted to completely white, I seem to have found hair peace. Seriously. When I embraced the shades of grey that appeared during the pandemic, let the dyed colour grow out and eventually disappear onto the floor of Carmen’s salon, I found that I could bear the fact that I was not blonde anymore. Was not young anymore. Hadn’t been for years, actually. And I was okay with that. Even a bit jubilant, in fact.
I guess my hair story was a metaphor for my life. Or maybe my journey to self-acceptance.
A few weeks ago when I wrote a post about being in a good hair place, I wondered if maybe you guys, the readers of High Heels in the Wilderness, had hair stories that you might like to share. Stories about your own shades of grey, or lack thereof. And did you ever!
So, buckle up, folks. And make a pot of tea. This post is a long one.
That’s Lori, above. Lori began her journey to grey during menopause. She says her “approach to ‘the change’ was to accept a natural evolution of hormonal fluctuations with as much grace as possible.” And that allowing her hair to change at the same time seemed the “logical accompaniment.” Her hair looks beautiful, doesn’t it? Still, Lori says she often looked in the mirror and wondered “what have I done?” Her mum counselled that people at work might think she had “let herself go.” But in the end, Lori said she learned that “allowing my natural grey WAS letting myself go. (So there Mom!) It was the beginning of my intentional maturation. It was almost as if I had to shed a bit of the old in order to make room for the discovery of who I was under there.”
Barb (above) began her journey, like me, during the pandemic. She tried to maintain her colour with home colour kits during lockdown and soon gave up. Letting her shades of grey peek through, and even embracing them by tying her hair back. That’s Barb today on the right, beautifully white with one edgy, dark streak in front. “Next step,” she says, “is a pixie cut.” I predict that you will look fabulous in a pixie cut, Barb.
Yvonne, above and below, says she began her hair journey while on a different kind of journey. And that after chemotherapy, her dyed brown hair eventually grew back curly and entirely white. She documented the process. Below on the left after 4 months of growth, and after 10 months and her first haircut on the right. She looks like a younger Helen Mirren in these photos, don’t you think? So striking.
That’s Karen below. Karen began her journey by cooling her warm highlights to ash and silver, then bleaching out the leftover colour, to arrive at the beautiful white on the right. That deep blue sweater looks fab with her white hair. Karen says her next challenge is to find a stylist who will make her cut more edgy and, as she says, “to stop this 70-something granny from looking like one.” I hear you, Karen. Finding a stylist who sees us as we want to be seen is a challenge sometimes.
Kathy, below, says she’d been colouring her hair since she was 18… “Remember Sun In?” And, finally, frustrated at how quickly her “skunk stripe” showed up, she decided to stop colouring. She looks amazing with white hair, although she says she has struggled a bit with her hair’s texture and fragility. Kathy’s after photo looks like a study in the colour of clothes and makeup that work beautifully with white hair. Don’t you agree?
Like Kathy, lots of women who sent in their hair stories have embraced long hair.
Dori (below left) says that she is “almost in a good hair place.” She agonized over the decision to stop colouring until she looked at photos of herself and thought, “who have I become?” She says a neighbour with long silver hair, and the silver-haired women on IG with dark hair and eyes like hers gave her the courage to begin her journey. The multi-stage process hasn’t been easy. But she says her “confidence in herself has grown as her silver hair emerges.”
Similarly, Lise (centre below) says that after eighteen months of hats and “looking awful” she now loves her natural white hair. And so does her initially “skeptical” husband. And Sue B. on the right says that after years of expense, hours and hours in the colourist’s chair, dyed ‘sideburns’ on her face, and white roots in two weeks, she now loves her “grey stripes.”
Susan R., below, has had a long relationship with her shades of grey. Starting in her teens when she developed what she called a “Mallen streak ” in her dark brown hair. I love that allusion to the Catherine Cookson series. Eventually Susan realized that her white Mallen streak had “gradually become wider and wider” and would cover her whole head if she stopped colouring. “Then the pandemic hit and the hairdressers were shut.” Like many of us, Susan saw this as her “chance” to go for it. So she did. And she says she “hasn’t looked back.”
So many photos and stories, my friends. So many shades of grey in my inbox in the last few weeks. After the first day or so, Hubby took to asking me every morning: “Any more ladies send photos, Suz?” He was as fascinated by all the stories as I was.
I love how Lynne and Bonnie’s photos, below, kind of echo each other. Both have short pixie cuts, both with some curl, both smiling and obviously in a good hair place. And both showing how saturated colour looks sooo good with grey or white hair.
Dawn and Frances, below, are a testament to the beauty of grey or white curls. Dawn has never coloured her white hair. But, as she said in her email, she grew “tired of using heat tools to straighten” her hair, and decided “to just let the curls do their thing.” I think her curls look smashing, don’t you? And Frances… well, my friend Frances, whom many of you know from her blog Materfamilias Writes, has always had beautiful curls. She started her grey transition when she retired in 2015. Extended travel and a busy life did not lend themselves to her every-five-week hair appointments, she says. Frances wrote a post back in 2016 about her hair story. You can read it here.
Sandra, below left, says that she loves her white hair although the transition was a bit unsettling at the time. Julia, centre, saw the Covid lockdown as an opportunity to end years of colouring. She says she feels more like herself now that her hair is all natural. Janet says the only times she regretted her hair colour were when she had “lapses in judgement, went back to colouring, and was immediately sorry.” These three ladies are all in good hair places now. And showing us that short, edgy cuts look fab.
Adele, below left, is “thrilled that grey and white hair has recently become so ubiquitous.” She’s always loved her natural colour but says she sometimes felt out of step, except when she and her husband travelled in Europe where grey hair was more common, and considered chic. Dottie, centre, took the plunge to transition from her long, dyed brown hair to short, curly, and grey (now white) hair. She loves her colour but says she is still casting about for a cut that works with her curls. Paula, below right, says she always hoped to become “that really cool grey-haired woman when the time came” but “gave into pressure” to colour when her hair started to go grey. Now she has “come full circle.” She’s happy with herself and her hair, and finally “working on becoming that really cool grey-haired woman.”
Let’s hear it for all the really cool grey-haired women. White, grey, salt and pepper… every shade of grey in every combination. Long, short, curly, choppy, straight, wavy, bobs, pixie cuts, bangs, no bangs. Whatever. I feel like I should be singing that song from the musical Hair.
That’s my friend Susan below, on the left. She of the lunch I spoke about when this whole hair story thing started back in February. I love Susan’s salt and pepper hair. This shot, which I took over lunch at Nordstrom, does not do justice to the bright white streaks in her hair. And that’s Valerie in the middle below. Valerie let her hair do its thing when she began to see that her very dark brown hair had become too severe. She’s really happy with her silvering salt and pepper. And so is Cathy. Who, thanks to Covid, let her natural colour have its way.
Sarah, below, says she used to have hair weaves before Covid to disguise the grey and give her fine straight hair more body. But like a lot of us during lockdown she started letting her “grey creep in… or out.” Thus began her search for the perfect hairstyle. Like blogger Cindy Hattersley’s hair, she says- “shoulder length, mostly blunt cut, minimal layering, with wispy bangs (Botox on a budget).” The style has been “genius,” she says. And has allowed her to shampoo less, and use fewer damaging styling tools on her fine hair. Sarah says she doesn’t think she is “destined for a full head of beautiful white hair.” But she has so little grey, who knows what will transpire.
Susan G., below, hasn’t covered her grey for years. But she says she’s always been “a bit obsessed with the length and style” more than the colour. Before Pinterest, she had “a stash of hair style magazines, clippings from the Sears catalogue,” you name it. In 2020, despite the fact that she’d “always received the most compliments when her hair [was] short and layered,” and influenced by articles about older women with “long, flowing locks,” she decided to grow her hair again. Of course Covid made the final decision for her. Five months of lockdown took her from a pixie to a bob. And with potential lockdowns looming, a bob seemed the most practical style for her, the most sensible, she thought. Until recently.
In her email, Susan writes: “I shouldn’t say that my recent change was your fault, but you were certainly my inspiration.” That bit made me smile. I take no credit, Susan. But that short choppy cut looks amazing on you. Seriously amazing.
Not all your hair stories were about letting nature take its course. Linda says she stopped colouring her hair in March 2020. When lockdowns were lifted she wasn’t ready to go back to colouring every 4 weeks. Nor was she ready to go 100% natural. With skilful highlights and lowlights, her hairdresser was able to blend her grey, white, and blonde locks, blurring her line of demarcation, and allowing her to visit the salon only every 10 weeks. She says she loves the new colour… and the schedule. You can see Linda’s “before”, and “after” shots below. As well as the photo she used as her goal.
Carol, below, found her Covid lockdown grow-out favoured a salt and pepper look that, she says, did her skin tone “no favours.” So it was back to blonde for her. Since both her mum and her grandfather had “gorgeous manes of silver hair,” she’s hoping that eventually her “genetic programming” will kick in. Until then she’s blonde… and waiting. “Think I’ll check in again at 70,” she says.
Judy, below left, had “natural, warm, red hair which began to fade” in her fifties. She helps her “beige roots” along with a blond home hair-colour kit every so often. But there’s no grey yet. Nor is there likely to be if she takes after her grandmother whose red hair went golden, but never grey, until her death at age 94. Heather, below right, another blonde, says it might be time to go “au natural.” That’s if she can get the cooperation of Jaclyn, her hairdresser, who despite Heather’s admonitions that she would like the grey to blend in with the blonde, doesn’t agree. Heather says she has to laugh when Jaclyn says “too much grey” as she dabs at Heather’s roots with her little brush. Sometimes keeping a good hairdresser is worth a little disagreement, I guess.
I also received two emails from readers who did not send a photo. Like Judy, Carol, and Heather, both Lauren and Genevieve have blonde hair. Genevieve has thick blond hair that she has never coloured. It’s “not so blonde” now, but she’s happy with not colouring. Similarly, Lauren at age 67 says: “I am trying to figure out what I should do with hair that basically is NOT going grey any time soon unless it decides to do a Marie Antoinette and go grey overnight.” Lauren’s light blonde hair has faded, she says, to a “drab taupe.” She brightens it with blonde highlights. But when she gets to an age where the “blonde highlights look off, what’s next?” she asks. Where is all the advice for women like her whose hair doesn’t turn grey or white, but fades to a colour they don’t like? Search me, Lauren. I wish I had answers to that question, but I don’t.
By the way, that’s me, below, with some white-haired friends when Hubby and I were in Myrtle Beach. I was telling my friend (and host) Eunice and her other dinner guests about my “hair post” and the ladies were very interested in seeing all your photos. There was much gushing, my friends, I’m telling you. As the party was breaking up, I asked Hubby to take a photo of us four together. Coincidentally all dressed in variations of black and white. We four lined up while four husbands snapped away, and said look this way, look here, now smile, yadda, yadda. “Like paparazzi,” I whispered to Hubby. Ha.
Thanks so much to everyone who sent photos and told me their hair stories. I loved reading all the emails. I tried to give a snippet of everyone’s story. And I hope I managed to convey the flavour of what you wanted to express, even though I did a lot of editing to make them all fit into one post.
You know, we all have a hair story. Even those of us who are NOT hair obsessed like me. Our hair stories might be about finding out that white hair is not as fatal as one feared. Might even be chic, in fact. Or they might be about how our hair says something about who we are, inside. And that acceptance of one shows acceptance of the other. Our hair stories might show how we cope with change. Good change. Or not so good change. Or maybe our hair stories show that, for some of us, hair is just hair. And not symbolic of anything else.
But I think that I have learned one thing in taking this hair journey with you. In finding out about your various emerging shades of grey, or white, or blonde, I’ve learned that despite our differences, we’re all trying to navigate change. To accept aging. And just get on with things as best we can. Like they say on Sesame Street, “We’re Different. We’re the Same.” I love that book.
Now, it’s your turn, my friends. If you have a hair story that you didn’t share with us, here’s your chance to remedy that. Or maybe you’re sick of talking about hair. If that’s the case, feel free to talk about anything you want. As usual, we’re listening.
P.S. Thanks to Natalie Goldberg, and her lovely book Writing Down the Bones, for giving me that idea of writing a “hair story.” Her book about writing is still an inspiration to me. Here’s the very first Hair Story I wrote back in 2014 when I started my blog.
P.P.S. Sarah mentioned Cindy Hattersley’s beautiful hair; you can find Cindy’s blog here.
P.P.P.S. You can find more grey and white hair inspiration on a my “Shades of Grey” Pinterest board here.